Sunday, January 31, 2010
Oscar Wilde on vegetarianism
Saturday, January 30, 2010
A complication to flat ethics and relational ethics
I don't have the time to respond to all of this stuff. Really any of it right now. So a short problematic that needs to be worked through in both flat ethics and relational ethics (not that those are necessarily different?). The problem is similar but slightly different for each.
In flat ethics we are trying to talk about how we can conceive of ethics (is it appropriate to say do justice?) that isn't just anthropocentric, or animal-centric, or even biocentric (right, Levi?), but rather does justice to all entities that are real. So, that's hard enough to even formulate the proposition, much less answer. But the fear is that such an extension could cause a defacto anthropocentricism (or pick your favorite -centrism). Let's bring this discussion to something those of us in the CAS movement understand, which is the extension of ethical treatment towards plants, which we dealt with briefly before on this blog. It is not uncommon for someone to respond to finding out someone is vegan (or vegetarian) by responding "What about plants?" sometimes this is meant as a joke, usually it is meant as an excuse not to explore the ethical. Though perhaps in the strongest formulation you will find this concept as part of what Derrida calls eating well, or what Haraway translates into the notion of killing well. If in order to live we have to eat/kill, than how should live in such a way to eat/kill well? In Derrida there isn't much to go on in his formulation, and it is a frustrating and interesting interview. In Haraway's boook When Species Meet, she develops her notion of killing well. And there is some thoughtful writing here about other animals, and balancing issues of ecology, etc. But she (and in many ways Derrida as well) doesn't deal with the question of killing humans. In short, it is hard to imagine she has created the same system for killing well humans as she as for animals. While human actions are under scrutiny in the work, an implicit anthropocentrism still seems to have hold over her notion (and I'd love nothing more to see her more directly take up this issue). By extending the ethical, we have to make sure that it doesn't foster a type of anthropocentrism (because I am concerned of plants and socks and Harry Potter and my cat and the bird he tries to hunt, etc) we end up declaring that tough choices have to be made! that still somehow excuses those same choices being made about humans. Obviously this is not at all a problem inherent in flat ethics, but is a problem that must be repeatedly and obviously guarded against.
In the relational ethics we have a similar issue, as I see. Adrian writes that:
But maybe there is a difference here after all... It's quite possible that an object-oriented ontology makes it easier to measure things that are fundamentally of the same kind (objects as defined in such and such a way), and is therefore more amenable to egalitarianism to the extent that "equality" is considered a kind of sameness that is distributed across a certain set of entities. A relational ontology, on the other hand, prefers to focus not on equality but on qualitivism -- that is, the notion that we should act in a way that preserves and enhances the quality of relations. I’ve argued elsewhere for an “ethic of circulating agency,” where what we value is that the ability to act, to pursue one’s goals, to respond to others, to grow and to flourish, is kept in motion , i.e., that it is actively distributed across the terrain within which the capacity emerges for such action, pursuit, responsiveness, and growth. I have yet to develop that idea in any philosophical depth, but I think it’s consistent with a poststructuralist and post-constructivist process-relational approach to politics.First, let me clarify. By egalitarianism (which is my emphasis with the concept of flatness with ethics) I do not mean sameness, homogeneity, static being, etc. As I stated in a comment over at Levi's place, ethics means affirming both equality and difference. This is obviously a tricky thing, and my favorite formulation of it, perhaps weirdly, is by Peter Singer (I hesitate to ever bring him into discussions, because of how much weight dragging his name into a conversation tends to have. So let me state I do not mean to bring his philosophical apparatuses in whenever I quote him. I sometimes don't even mean what he means when I quote him, sometimes I just like his formulations), when states that we have to give equal consideration of interests. Now, he has some technical meanings for the terms interest and consideration, but of which I think we might be challenging. But this is what I mean by equality, in which an exceptionalism doesn't form in our ethical relationships. I like the idea of an ethic of circulating agency. But I would too wonder what it does with something like the notion of killing well or eating well. In short, how does an ethic of circulatory ethics deal with situations that are not win-win? How does it deal with situations where choices have to made that for some being to continue flourishing means that another being cannot continue to flourish? This is where egalitarianism becomes all the more necessary, otherwise some group or person or whatever will always cheat at these moments. Will claim that their interests are obviously more important than others. (And this might also be a good way to rethink interests, in terms of collective relations toward flourishing, rather than an individualistic utilitarian calculations). Again, not something inherent, but something that needs to be watched and guarded against.
Anyway, I think this discussion has been wonderful so far. I know we are all busy, but I hope it continues. And maybe when the blogging begins to slow down we can formulate some sort of more concrete exchange (special journal issue, formalized virtual conference, real conference, etc.).
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Metro riding dogs
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The biggest disappointment of the day?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A question regarding DeLanda
Monday, January 25, 2010
Persons, persons everywhere!
Margaret Sommerville has an article arguing against personhood for animals. The article is at least 98% bunk (even her attacks against Singer are off base). Except for the honest argument that personhood for animals should be opposed because it destroys human exceptionalism. That's the problem sometimes, what I want is often exactly the opposite of what someone else wants. It's not a misunderstanding that can just be clarified. Anymore than someone saying their opposition of extending personhood to african-americans in the times of slavery was a problem because it destroyed white exceptionalism. No duh, that's a benefit, not a bug.
This article comes by way of A Thinking Reed, where Lee has two posts up responding, here and here. You might also want to check out his post on corporate personhood.
Meanwhile, it seems there is a movement to create an amendment in order to define citizenship as belonging just to humans, and specifically trying to stop citizenship rights to be conferred on corporations. I learn this by way of Animal Rights & Anti-Oppression. Over there Mary Martin makes the argument that corporate personhood is bad for the personhood of non-human animals. No doubt.
Of course the whole thing seems to be caught in some sort of weird double bind. People want to pass this amendment because they feel the recent SCOTUS decision gives too much power over the political process to corporations. If this is correct, passing an amendment, the hardest political thing you can probably do, should be easily stopped by the corporations. Oh well. If the language gets changed to something less anthropocentric, let me know.
There is probably more I want to say on all these issues, and I might get to them later.
A history of the concept of person
To be a person has, at least in the occidental tradition, been tied to the concept of ownership since Rome. Though it also includes notions of personhood outside of the occidental tradition, we won't be getting into that quite yet. Indeed, to be a person is originally bound to the capacity and desire for ownership, for possessing the property of property. A radical course might be, then, not to abolish animalhood into personhood, but rather to abolish personhood into animalhood. This is why, for Deleuze and Guattari, an anti-capitalist politics requires a becoming-animal. This is just prelude, to summarize the arguments below.
Our word person comes from the Etruscan phersu, which originally meant mask. The Etruscan theater rites held that the performers wore masks, the phersu. These rites would influence the Roman theater, and gave birth to their word persona. The persona could refer to the mask, to the individual wearing the mask, or to the character one played. Persona both meant mask, and also meant role. Around the second Punic War grammarians borrowed the theatrical term of persona, and used is to signify different forms of address (first person, second person, etc.). That was the third century BCE, by the first century BCE the word persona had come to take on several different but related meanings. One had many roles in Roman society; roles as father, roles as citizen, etc.; and persona became the technical term for different types of roles one was to perform in society. Perhaps most definitely for our purposes is that persona comes to be a definitive legal category. One's persona was connected toward the legal right to have a name, that indeed the "Roman citizen had a right to the nomen, the praenomen and the cognomen that his gens assigned to him."  To be a persona meant to have access to one's name, to one's status. And this status is not an abstract category but the very right to have property, to do business, to be a member of the senate. Mauss again:
To the very end the Roman Senate thought of itself as being made up of a determinate number of patres representing the 'persons' (personnes), the 'images' of their ancestors.
It is to the persona that is attributed the property of the simulacra and the imagines. 
Indeed, if we fastforward to 535 CE the exacting Institutes of Justinian codify all of this. As Thomas Collett Sanders explains in his definitive commentary:
Every being capable of having and being subject to rights was called in Roman law persona (see Introd. sec. 37). Thus not only was the individual citizen, when look at as having this capacity, a persona, but also corporations and public bodies. Slaves, on the other had, were not persona. They had no rights (see Introd. sec. 38). [...] Status (legal standing) is the correlative of persona: persona is that which has a status. In Roman law there were recognized three great heads of this legal capacity: libertas, the capacity to have and be subject to the rights of a freeman; civitas, the capacity to have and be subject to the rights of a Roman citizen; and familia, the capacity to have be subject to the rights of a person sui juris. So, at least by the sixth century CE, personhood is the term of art for those with legal standing, and corporations were included. But there is another important development with the concept of person in Rome. We need to rewind back to first century BCE.
While persona was entering legal terminology, it was also entering as a term of art in moral philosophy. In particular, it forms part of the basis of Stoic anthropology. As Cicero declared "dignitas hominis," he also outlined the four persona that make us human in De Officiis. The first persona is that of ratio, of reason. This is the most important one for Cicero, as it is both what divides the human from the animal and "in superiority surpass the brute creatures"  while at the same time gives us the guide of how to treat the other personas, as if they were "wild beasts."  The other three personas are individuality, the historical factors that form you, and your own will. This anthropology is more than just an argument on what separates humans from animals, it is also a moral argument. Here the idea of a moral consciousness enters into our understanding of persona; a moral consciousness that is bound together with reason. Persona will undergo one other important transformation in the classical period, this time under the treatment of the patristics.
As Mauss argues: "Our own notion of the human person is still basically the Christian one." Let's exam what could be meant by this statement. Tertullian, whom invented the notion of the trinity, argued that God is "tres Personae, una Substantia," three roles, one substance. And while we are dealing with three, what we are really dealing with is a duality between spirit and flesh, and this duality must be overcome. This is why Mauss further contends: "It is from the notion of the 'one' that the notion of the 'person' (personne) was created -- I believe that it will long remain so -- for the divine persons, but at the same time for the human person, substance and mode, body and soul, consciousness and act."  The way this dualism is eventually overcome is by tying the notion of persona to the notion of economy. 
These classical understandings of persona, bound up with ownership, reason, legal status, dualism and economy, are important. But we need to fast forward again, this time all the way to the early 19th century.
Antoine Destutt de Tracy, an aristocrat and philosopher perhaps best known for coining the term ideology, published an influential book entitled Traité de la volonté. When Thomas Jefferson translated this book into English, he changed the title to Treatise on Political Economy. Within this treatise, Destutt de Tracy argues for the absolute inability of personal property, because one's very personhood is defined by the capacity to own things. As he writes, "Now this idea of property can only be founded on the idea of personality. For if an individual had not consciousness of his own existence, distinct and separate from every other, he could possess nothing, he could have nothing peculiar to himself." 
Destutt de Tracy's arguments are taken up by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology, which I shall quote at length:
Destutt de Tracy among, and after, many others said the same thing much better approximately thirty years ago, and also later, in the book quoted below. For example:
“Formal proceedings were instituted against property, and arguments were brought forward for and against it, as though it depended on us to decide whether property should or should not exist in the world; but this is based on a complete misunderstanding of our nature” (Traité de la volonté, Paris, 1826, p. 18).
And then M. Destutt de Tracy undertakes to prove that propriété, individualité and personnalité are identical, that the “ego” [moi] also includes “mine” [mien], and he finds as a natural basis for private property that
“nature has endowed man with an inevitable and inalienable property, property in the form of his own individuality” (p. 17). — The individual “clearly sees that this ego is the exclusive owner of the body which it animates, the organs which it sets in motion, all their capacities, all their forces, all the effects they produce, all their passions and actions; for all this ends and begins with this ego, exists only through it, is set in motion through its action; and no other person can make use of these same instruments or be affected in the same way by them” (p. 16). “Property exists, if not precisely, everywhere that a sentient individual exists, at least wherever there is a conative individual” (p. 19).
Having thus made private property and personality identical, Destutt de Tracy with a play on the words propriété and propre, like “Stirner” with his play on the words Mein and Meinung, Eigentum and Eigenheit, arrives at the following conclusion:
“It is, therefore, quite futile to argue about whether it would not be better for each of us to have nothing of our own (de discuter s'il ne vaudrait pas mieux que rien ne fût propre à chacun de nous) ... in any case it is equivalent to asking whether it would not be desirable for us to be quite different from what we are, and even to examining whether it would not be better for us not to exist at all” (p. 22).
“these are extremely popular”, now already traditional objections to communism, and for that very reason “it is not surprising that Stirner” repeats them. 
As Marx and Engels here indicate, there is a stapling together of property, individualism, and personhood. This stapling together is rooted from some of the earliest occidental legal codes and moral philosophy. This forces us to face the idea that maybe we need to exit from basing our rights and ethical responsibilities on the notion of person. It just might be true that as long as the person is the center of our politics and ethics we will always privilege the wealthiest of us and always leave at risk the most disposed. It is for this reason that in some ways corporations are the most natural of persons (who, after all, owns more stuff), and of course it continues to be a problem to ever extend personhood toward other animals.
If I had more time I'd probably now enter into a discussion of Heidegger's notion of animals as poor-in-this-world, Schmitt's notion of nomos, and Deleuze and Guattari's notion of nomos and becoming-animal. But I don't.
A comment on Citations:
I recognize these are not formal citations, it's late and this is a blog. These should, however, allow you get to any of the citations I've given. If you have trouble tracking something down, let me know.
 Marcel Mauss, "A category of the human mind: the notion of person; the notion of self" in The Category of the Person, edited M. Carrithers et al., p. 16.
 Mauss, p. 17.
 Justinian, The Institutes of Justinian, translated with commentary by Thomas Collett Sanders, p. 76. I also suggest reading the strongly Agambenian reading of this code by Steven DeCaroli in "Boundary Stones: Giorgio Agamben and the Field of Sovereignity" in Giorgio Agamben, ed. M. Calarco and S. DeCaroli.
 Cicero, On Duties, Cambridge Press, p. 42.
 Cicero, p. 125.
 Mauss, p. 19.
 Mauss, p. 20.
 Despite his lack of focus on the concept of persona, Agamben's focus on economy in Il Regno e la Gloria is well worth the read.
 Destutt de Tracy, A Treatise of Political Economy, p. 17
 Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, International Publishers, pp. 100-101.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
A spy air drone may be coming to a city near you
Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the "routine" monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.
The arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which produces a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for war zones, is adapting the military-style planes for a consortium of government agencies led by Kent police. [...]
They also indicate that police claims that the technology will be used for maritime surveillance fall well short of their intended use – which could span a range of police activity – and that officers have talked about selling the surveillance data to private companies.[...]
Five other police forces have signed up to the scheme, which is considered a pilot preceding the countrywide adoption of the technology for "surveillance, monitoring and evidence gathering". The partnership's stated mission is to introduce drones "into the routine work of the police, border authorities and other government agencies" across the UK. [...]
Far more sophisticated than the remote-controlled rotor-blade robots that hover 50-metres above the ground – which police already use – BAE UAVs are programmed to undertake specific operations. They can, for example, deviate from a routine flightpath after encountering suspicious activity on the ground, or undertake numerous reconnaissance tasks simultaneously.
The surveillance data is fed back to control rooms via monitoring equipment such as high-definition cameras, radar devices and infrared sensors.
Previously, Kent police has said the drone scheme was intended for use over the English Channel to monitor shipping and detect immigrants crossing from France. However, the documents suggest the maritime focus was, at least in part, a public relations strategy designed to minimise civil liberty concerns. [...]
Partnership officials have said the UAVs could raise revenue from private companies. At one strategy meeting it was proposed the aircraft could undertake commercial work during spare time to offset some of the running costs.
More animal blogs?
I also know there are a lot of blogs that occasionally deal with animal issues, let me know about those too!, but I mostly only included blogs that significantly dealt with the question.
Thanks in advance.
UPDATE: As people give me links, I'll be adding them here.
Animal Law Coalition
Animal Rights: Abolition approach
Animal Rights & Anti-Oppression
Carol J. Adams
Green is the New Red
In Living Color
On Human-Non-Human Relations
A Thinking Reed
Thomas Paine's Corner
The Vegan Ideal
Vegans of Color
V for Vegan
Friday, January 22, 2010
Copyright as performative contradiction
What makes us unique as humans?
Communism and animal abolition
It seems to me that opposition to property requires a necessary revolution in our relation to the non-human or a-human.
Towards a radical bioethics
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Ecology and Marxism, pt. 1
Marxism was lacking not merely in the understanding of agriculture but in the understanding of ecology and therefore of history itself (p. 180).
In Marx the principle of the domination of nature is actually accepted quite naively. According to the Marxian way of seeing there is something of a change in the relations of domination between people -- they are supposed to come to an end, that is, such domination should disappear -- but the unconditional domination of nature by human beings is not affected by this, so we might say that the image of a classless society in Marx has something of a quality of a gigantic joint-stock company for the exploitation of nature, as Horkheimer once formulated it. The fact that, according to Marx, the labour performed by animals does not lead to the production of surplus value -- even though the costs of reproduction is lower in animals than the time or energy expanded -- the fact that, according to an explicit passage in Capital, their labour produces no surplus value is merely the crassest symbol of this. I have no wish to become embroiled in romantic reflections on nature, but I believe that, when I say there has been too little interpretation, we have alighted on a very crucial problem. If there is only one truth, it is not possible to criticize radically the principle of domination on the one hand, while unreservedly acquiescing in it in a undialectical manner on the other. If it is the case -- as Marx and Engels taught, although I am by no means sure it is the case -- that domination over external nature called for societies in which domination prevailed through the millennia because things would not have worked otherwise -- and that this situation is now supposed to be radically transformed all of a sudden, then you need a very strong faith (to put it mildly) to imagine that the forms of domination of nature should persist in accordance with idealism, in accordance with a Fichtean idea of absolute subjectivity, without forms of domination making their appearance [in society]. If in the Eastern-bloc countries the bureaucrats have eaten their fill and have formed themselves into a class, this is undeniably connected to the process of industrialization with its utterly ruthless and undialectical demands for the domination of nature, whereas for a seriously liberated vision of society that includes the relationship of man and nature, the relation to the domination of nature has to be changed if it is not constantly to reproduce itself in the internal forms of society. (Adorno, Lectures on Negative Dialectics: Fragments on a Lecture Course 1965/1966, pp. 58-59, emphasis in the original).I will have more to say later, I just wanted to type these up as a beginning.
2010 Critical Animal Studies conference.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Academic Job Advice
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Influential Books: Critical Animal for the Uninitiated
Some of the books that most charted a way out for me, a way of facing the structures of oppression without feeling trapped by them, were feminist works. Donna Haraway's Simians, Cyborgs, and Women taught me about the interplay between material realities and social construction. Judith Butler's Bodies that Matter and Antigone's Claim taught me about the power to become otherwise, and the strength of interdependent finitude. Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw, or more likely meeting her and attending some of her workshops when I was 19, taught me a lot about the practical ways of being a part of communities of the weird and the abject.
Mary Daly's dead, how do I feel about that?
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
More on health care: Why the insurance industry hates it edition
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
hypermodernity, postmodernity, and altermodernity = German, American, and French = wtf?
Immanence and from below
Monday, January 11, 2010
Faye's out, what's in?
Leigh Johnson on the dark side of theory
Friday, January 8, 2010
A question on Faye's Heidegger
As most of you are aware, I am not a huge fan of Heidegger, and so was pretty happy when I first heard about this book. Even though I knew some of claims are simply outrageous (specifically that we just should never teach Heidegger) I still thought it would be an interesting read. However, for some strange reason it resulted in any number of fairly high profile reviews, and those reviews were positive of the book but really terrible in themselves. I had begun to decide to just skip Faye, but I recently saw the book in a bookstore and flipped through it. It deals with a lot of lectures by Heidegger that I engage with in my own work. But I don't want to waste the money if it is simply a hatchet job or poorly written or inaccurate. So, is it any good?
Vulnerability and animal experimentation.
Recently Leigh Johnson, whose work on 'weak humanism' is certainly interesting and I've taken it up before here, had an interesting post on the genetic science behind how what has traditionally been taken as vulnerability is really plasticity. This obviously dovetails in nicely with how I've dealing with vulnerability in my own work, and also how Johnson has been dealing with the concept in her own work on weak humanism. I suggest you read her post here, and I suggest you read the article here.
A major part of the article has to deal with a researcher on rhesus monkeys, Stephen Suomi, who was a student of Harry Harlow. This is what the article says about Harlow:
Now, I'm glad that the article at least hints at what Harlow (and indeed Suomi) did. But it mostly glosses over what happened. Let me explain (and before we go any further, I am pulling most of this information from Peter Singer's Animal Liberation. He, in turn, pulls most of this information directly from scientific periodicals. Whatever you think of his philosophy, the information seems fairly legit and straightforward to me). Now, what the article describes certainly does represent the early work of Harlow, but his work didn't stop there. Let me quote another phase of their work, in which they decided they need to construct 'monster mothers':
Suomi learned his trade as a student and protégé of, and then a direct successor to, Harry Harlow, one of the 20th century’s most influential and problematic behavioral scientists. When Harlow started his work, in the 1930s, the study of childhood development was dominated by a ruthlessly mechanistic behavioralism. The movement’s leading figure in the United States, John Watson, considered mother love “a dangerous instrument.” He urged parents to leave crying babies alone; to never hold them to give pleasure or comfort; and to kiss them only occasionally, on the forehead. Mothers were important less for their affection than as conditioners of behavior.
With a series of ingenious but sometimes disturbingly cruel experiments on monkeys, Harlow broke with this cool behavioralism. His most famous experiment showed that baby rhesus monkeys, raised alone or with same-age peers, preferred a foodless but fuzzy terrycloth surrogate “mother” over a wire-mesh version that freely dispensed meals. He showed that these infants desperately wanted to bond, and that depriving them of physical, emotional, and social attachment could create a near-paralyzing dysfunction. In the 1950s this work provided critical evidence for the emerging theory of infant attachment: a theory that, with its emphasis on rich, warm parent-child bonds and happy early experiences, still dominates child-development theory (and parenting books) today.
The first of these monsters was a cloth monkey mother who, upon schedule or demand, would eject high-pressure compressed air. It would blow the animal's skin practically off its body. What did the baby monkey do? It simply clung tighter and tighter to the mother, because a frightened infant clings to its mother at all costs. We did not achieve any pyschopathology (op. cit. p. 33, from the 3rd edition).Harlow and Suomi go on to explain the series of tortures they devised to try and make an infant stop clinging to its mother. Monster mothers that would rock so violently "that the baby's head and teeth would rattle", another monster mother would forcibly spring the infant from itself, another one would suddenly shoot out brass spikes. In all cases the baby fought to stay with these monster mothers, and would come back as soon as, for example, the spikes went away. But for whatever reason this wasn't enough for Harlow and Suomi, they needed to produce actual monster mothers, not mechanical ones. So they took infant female monkeys, and raised them in utter isolation. However, this meant that these monkeys didn't develop natural sexual urges. What to do? Never fear, Harlow and Suomi came up with a solution, what they themselves referred to as a "rape rake." These mothers, raised in utter isolation, now forced to care for their offspring produced by rape.
And these are not the only experiments, I could tell you about the experiments they did whose goal was to "induce psychological death in rhesus monkeys." And while this work maybe, as the author of the original article contends, controversial, it has not kept Harlow from being considered a pioneer and his work being talked about in almost every introduction to psychology book. It hasn't produced strict standards against making sure this type of thing doesn't keep happening, indeed the students of Harlow have gone on to be the giants in their field (none so much as Suomi himself, who has received massive amounts of money from the NIH to build his own custom laboratories). So you can understand my double outrage when the article describes an experiment in which infant monkeys were ripped from their mothers and raised with other mothers (including abusive ones). Not only am I outraged by this experiment, I am also worried about what was done to produce these abusive mothers.
But this isn't just a litany of the horrors done by someone still revered and respected. This isn't just because I don't think you can read this article and have your only reaction be, "Wow, this science is so cool and interesting," and implore you to think about what is done to animals in such research. Actually, if you are still reading, I have a philosophical point about vulnerability I wanted to get to. But before I get there, we need a short detour.
A while ago I asked in a blog post if it was true that only humans could dance to a beat. Greg responded that it wasn't, and posted this NPR article in support of this claim. After talking about how we recently discovered humans were not the only creatures to dance to a beat, the article ends on this note:
And what would happen if a bird never heard any music for the first few years of its life? Could it still dance later on? That would be an interesting study, Fitch says, and one that could never be done on people.And while the science might indeed be interesting, I think it takes a perverse outlook on life to discover that we are less unique than was thought, and immediately go to what strange and perhaps horrific experiments we can do on animals because of this discovery. The same thing happens in the Dobbs article. He writes:
But so far, among all primates, only rhesus monkeys and human beings seem to have multiple polymorphisms in genes heavily associated with behavior. “It’s just us and the rhesus,” Suomi says.This is, of course, the dirty secret of animal experimentation. As Peter Singer pointed out, either animals are enough like us that this data actually does shed light on us, in which case how can you justify to do this, or the animals are not like us, which again begs the question how you can justify doing these experiments.
The basic premise of all behaviorist ethology is that animals are enough like us that studying them allows us to know something of ourselves. That within responses to fear, pleasure, pain, desires, cooperation and competition, that we can then derive understandings of how we all interact. It is upon the needs and drives and sensations of our embodied, vulnerable, finite, animal selves that both the psyche and sociality are based. Under the illusion of teaching us about our humanity, it is teaching us about our shared animality. Just as Ranciere demonstrated that at the same moment the master tries to prove their superiority by ordering the slave, really the master proves the fundamental equality of the two in that moment, the brutality and degradation of animal experimentation proves the fundamental equality of other animals and ourselves. The equality of flesh, of fear, and of fidelity.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
I myself am so inoculated against Heidegger I risk autoimmunity of the subject. But I am glad that people can engage Heidegger's concepts but are beginning to turn against not just his style of thinking, but more importantly his thinking on thinking. I've always been most bothered by what Heidegger sees as the task of philosophy and what it means to be a philosopher.
Update: Graham Harman has two more short posts on this subject, here and here. Basically, I agree with him and Paul. The tone of Heideggerian scholarship is changing, and really only for the best. Look, I'm never going to be down with the H-man, but recently my disagreements with Heideggerians have actually been useful, and I seldom feel like I am arguing with religious zealots anymore. I'm happy that people can do useful and postitive projects with him, even if I don't personally see it in the source material.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Factory Farming and Health Care
One almost doesn't know where to begin. Well, at minimum diets high in animal products are the number one causes behind heart diseases, cancers, and strokes. It is also estimated that there are 76 million cases of food borne illnesses a year in America, almost all of which are caused by factory farming. Furthermore working in a slaughterhouse is still the number one profession for on job injuries, including the number one cause of chronic injuries. None of this covers the severe and often chronic conditions that the pollutions from factory farms give to the people that work on them and live around them. To give one example, children raised next to factory farms have asthma rates exceeding 50 percent, and children raised near factory farms are still twice as likely to get asthma as other children. Meanwhile factory farms basically serve as laboratories for ever deadlier flus and bacteria infections while at the same time destroying the ability of medicines to effectively treat those viruses and infections through use of antibiotics for non-medicinal purposes.
Health care costs are rising faster than the GDP in most countries, particularly fast in the US. There are lots of reasons for this; pay for service systems, an increased technological medicine, the costs of medical schools and the high costs of physician payments, the intense costs of end of life care, etc; but one of the reasons is we are simply sicker. You can not give a fuck about the lives and well-being of other animals, and still realize that we absolutely have to take a stand against factory farming. There are absurdly high costs to cheap meat and cheap animal products. People are getting sick, people are dying, we are destroying the planet, and bankrupting the country so someone can get a cheeseburger for two bucks (or however much they cost). We could do more for health care and national health care cost control than the most liberal utopian single-payer system if tomorrow we banned factory farms. Hell, even if we just effectively regulated them and stopped the government subsidies.
The health care bill that is coming out means that some of those externalized costs by factory farms get paid collectively. It means that not only insurance companies, but to some degree all of us become slightly more invested in the health and well-being of each other. In a rational world that would probably mean we turn against factory farming, but in the world we live in it will probably mean more broadsides against cheap sugar rather than against cheap meat (not that it's an either/or situation).
Some thoughts on Abolitionism vs. Welfarism
One of the things that will confuse and/or bother traditional vegan abolitionists who read JSF's Eating Animals is that not only is he generally favorably disposed to both the HSUS and PETA, but he treats them as different sorts of organizations. That is to say, while he calls HSUS an animal welfare organization, he calls PETA an animal rights organization. Now, in certain circles of animal abolitionists it has become almost a tautology to call both PETA and HSUS welfare organizations. The logic of such a move is explained by Gary Francione in this podcast. (I know that podcast is from September, may I also say that I almost never listen to podcasts from anyone, I just don't have a lot of time that format makes sense for me).
In this podcast Francione argues that one cannot both support abolition for animals and support moves of animal welfare. One cannot both be for bigger cages and no cages. He makes makes two types of arguments to support this claim: The second set he makes a series of historical arguments that the only welfare changes that industry adopts are made for profit. That is to say, they would do so regardless of the efforts of organizations like PETA. The first set of arguments is the ones I have problems with, which is that he argues that it is simply speciesist to say one is for welfare now as we work for an end goal of abolition. His support for this argument is that one would never argue for better rape, or better murder, or better torture (though he catches himself when he says this), or better child molestation. One would fight to end all of this. It is only because they are animals that we argue for better slaughtering practices rather than an end to all slaughtering practices. But Francione's analogies are problematic because they all represent things we have already agreed as a society to oppose. What we need to look at are other radical movements, but these involving humans.
Well, one of the other issues I am very concerned with is the abolition of prisons. Again, this is an institution that is truly unforgivable. And even a cursory history of prisons would show that many reforms actually strengthen the carceral society rather than reduce its strength. (For those interested in knowing more, I cannot suggest Stanley Cohen's Visions of Social Control strongly enough). Even with all of this being true, one of the things that prison abolitionists are constantly confronted with is if they should devote resources to reformist projects or not. Should you, for example, spend time to make sure prisoners get decent health care treatment? Or create a drop-in center for the formerly incarcerated? Or allow condom distribution in prisons (which was, last I checked, banned in 49 states and the federal system)? Or a million other things that could make the lives of those caught up in the carceral society slightly better? I don't think these questions can be answered ahead of time. I don't think we can always say we should support every reform, no matter how small, or oppose every reform, no matter how big. I think these questions have to be addressed as they come, with a grasp of history and the stakes involved. We also have to admit that we are not purists, but the abolition is necessary to stop the suffering, exploitation, and violence systematically done to those caught up in these processes and institutions. Labeling those who disagree with the decision you have made about these questions as not being sufficently dedicated doesn't seem to help.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
What about plants?
But the problem is that many things are complex and fascinating. And in the case of those beings who come under evolutionary pressures, there is a lot about them that resist being killed, or to be more precise resist being killed before reproduction. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't have survived till now. But, for all of that, does that mean they do not want (as in, desire, as in, have desires and interests and wants and suffering and joys and pleasures and all of that) to be killed? This is the crux of the argument, after all.
Angier contends that many scientists speak of plants in active terms, in terms of wanting and desiring. Which I have no doubt they do. After all, I hung out with Cornell chemistry grad students for three years and they spoke of particles and atoms and chemicals as wanting and desiring, as communicating and as active forces. Plants are not passive, neither are bacteria or atoms. But the chemists I hung out with didn't really mean that one atom wanted to bond with another atom, but rather given a certain set of conditions certain types of atoms would bond with other types. The short hand for these active processes was wanting. What I am confused about is if most scientists would say that plants had desires, wants, joys and depressions. It's harder for us who are not people who study plants to know this sort of thing as opposed to animals. For example, I just ate some clementines, which are all seedless. Is that seedlessness the same sort of violence as the turkey that is used for slaughter in this country, now unable to reproduce naturally and require artificial insemination (often through a turkey baster)?
This leads us to one of the more interesting parts of the article, that is, what is missing from its argumentation. The article is specifically set up as a response to committed vegetarianism and strong ethical veganism. But, and this is important, at no point does it make any attempt to explain why or how including plants in our ethical compass is a response to vegetarianism and/or veganism. Let's bracket the obvious answer that factory farming (which amounts to 99 percent of animal products that is consumed) destroys far more plant and animal life than just about anything else and therefore this argument should require one to be a practical vegan even if not an ethical vegan. We are going to bracket this argument because this arguments about plants have nothing to do with plants, actually. Rather, the argument works something like if you can eat nothing with innocence than everything is innocent. If guilt is everywhere, than you do not have to feel guilty about any particular thing. Status quo maintained. This argument seeks not to broaden our ethical considerations, but to obliterate them.
I have no doubt if it is true that plants have whatever it is that we consider important of being included in our moral community that everything will change. Everything will get more complicated. Ultimately, though, it will have to mean a serious way of learning to live, not an excuse for ignoring the suffering and damage we all know we are doing.